Monday, March 9, 2009

Bolling for vampires

Because I'm not a gamer, I don't have a lot of interest in movies made from video games. In the rare case that I've seen one (such as the original Resident Evil film) what struck me most was the sheer arbitrariness of everything. Of course, that's as much a function of sloppy storytelling as it is the source material, so I can't entirely blame the game. And iffy source material doesn't always mean disaster: the first Pirates of the Caribbean film is a well-made, fun film based on a amusement park ride, and Mars Attacks! is an unappreciated subversive comedy taken from a set of trading cards (a source that might be even more arbitrary than an Xbox/Playstation game).

This is the long way around to saying I've never seen a film directed by the much maligned Uwe Boll until I sat down to watch his two vampire-themed BloodRayne films.

The first film stars Kristanna Loken as the title character, a dhamphir (half human, half vampire) who is first seen as a sideshow freak in a Medieval traveling circus. Soon she is recruited into the Brimstone Society, an anti-vampire league headed by Michael Madsen. She eventually confronts her vampire father (Ben Kingsley), who has the usual plan to take over the world.

The film's credits include two surprises. One is a list of supporting actors you wouldn't expect to find in a low-budget sword-and-sorcery period film: Michelle Rodriguez, Billy Zane, Meat Loaf (!), Michael Pare, and the aforementioned Madsen and Kingsley. And truthfully, none of them are very good at making the stilted language come alive. Madsen, burdened with most of it, comes off as particularly stiff, although even the truly slumming Kingsley doesn't distinguish himself.

The other surprise is the name of screenwriter Guinevere Turner. Her list of previous writing credits (such as American Psycho, Go Fish, The Notorious Bettie Page) give no hint that she was capable of writing something like this, and if the results accurately reflect her script, there's a reason for that. But even the best script can be torpedoed in execution, so I'm inclined to give her the benefit of the doubt.

As for that execution, it's disjointed, awkward, and oddly paced, but still manages to have the taste of Old World folklore. The characters make decisions with no apparent motivation, and take action without any sense of continuity with their former behavior. The battle scenes are humorously schizophrenic, with awkward grade-school sword-tapping intercut with over-the-top gore. This could be a function of budget, schedule or creative laziness, but there's no denying its entertainment value.

How much this is due to the script, Boll's direction or just the nature of making a low-budget film quickly is hard to say. But the film wasn't as bad as I expected, in large part due to Kristanna Loken.

One thing I've noticed about Loken in other films is that, whatever the occasion, she throws herself whole-heartedly into the emotion of the moment. When, like BloodRayne, the film doesn't bother to set up these moments she's left looking a bit silly, but that's not her fault. She also has the kind of rubbery, malleable features that make her gorgeous one moment and grotesque the next (and for an actress, that's a good thing). BloodRayne rests entirely on her shoulders, and she does all she can with it. The final result can't really be blamed on her.

But then we get to BloodRayne: Deliverance, (a.k.a. BloodRayne 2) and the blame becomes a whole lot clearer.

First, there's no Loken. Rayne this time is embodied (I use that term because "acted" really doesn't apply) by the attractive but uncharismatic Natassia Malthe. Second, it's a Western: the head vampire this time is Billy the Kid. There's a semblance of an idea here (Billy takes over a small town just before the railroad arrives, so he can then send his vampire henchmen out into the world via mass transit) but it's not really developed. Hell, nothing in this movie is really developed.

This seems to be the kind of film that Uwe Boll's detractors describe: cheap, incoherent, and most damning of all, boring. I don't have any emotional investment in the source material, but having enjoyed the first film I found this one a real disappointment.

So my first exposure to Uwe Boll goes down as a split decision. I liked the first BloodRayne well enough for what it was, even if some of its entertainment value was unintentional. BloodRayne: Deliverance was a waste of all resources.

(I understand that Mr. Boll often threatens to physically thrash his detractors, and that he was once a professional boxer. Let's hope he only reads the first two sentences in the above paragraph.)

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